(first appeared in the October 2013 issue of The Equiery)
by Katherine O. Rizzo
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Fair Hill International Festival in the Country and with this milestone, the folks at FHI have made some additions and changes to continue to make FHI a must-see event on the calendars of both spectators and competitors from around the world. This year’s event takes place on October 16 through the 20.
A Common Dream
Since its first year, FHI has taken place at the Fair Hill Natural Resources Management Area in Elkton, formerly owned by the famed William duPont, Jr. The 5,633-acre property was purchased by the State of Maryland in 1974 and in 1989 the property hosted its first CCI** event. At the time, there was no such thing as a CCI**** event so the first FHI course was more equivalent to a modern day CCI*** than a CCI**. Also in those early years, three-day eventing was still following the long format where cross-country day involved roads and tracks as well as a steeplechase phase before the actual cross-country jumping phase.
“The first year we ran, we only had about 25 entries and now I look back and think ‘wow.’ Just the growth of what this has become is crazy,” said Trish Gilbert, FHI co-president. Karen Lende, now U.S. Olympian Karen O’Connor, won the first FHI aboard Nos Ecus, owned by Mr. and Mrs. Richard H. Thompson, on a final score of 62.2 points. The pair scored a 44.6 in dressage to be in third going into cross-country day. Karen and Nos Ecus jumped clean but a little outside the time on Phase D (the cross-country course) and then put in a double clean show jumping round to win the competition.
Fran Loftus has been involved with FHI for its entire 25 years, although her official job title has changed a few times. Fran is best known as FHI’s artist, as it is her drawings of the various cross-country fences that can be seen in the program each year. She said that most of the group that first came together to form FHI knew each other in some way, whether through pony club or volunteering at nearby events. “We all came together with a common dream,” she said.
The camaraderie of the core group of FHI organizers has been one of the reasons the event has been such a success. Both Fran and Judy Thayer commented on how well everyone works with each other, with Judy saying, “This is just such a great group to work with and we’ve produced a first class event.” When Judy was first asked to be on the FHI committee she was also the — USEA’s Area II chairman. Now her official FHI title is treasurer but she oversees everything from fence decorations to ring stewards and roping off the galloping lanes.
Current course builder Eric Bull also commented on the overall dedication of the FHI crew saying, “They have all done this for the sport, not for themselves. They are not the type of people who want to take the spotlight. They devote all their time and energy to make this sport better and are really behind the scenes.”
John Ryan, also on the original FHI committee and still very active in getting the grounds in tip-top shape for the event, reminisced about the flow of the first event, pointing out that because of roads and tracks, the entire event was more spread out. “Stabling was in the racing barns over at the fairgrounds so dressage was done over there to make things easier for the competitors. Phase A started on that side [of Gallagher Road] and then we used the steeplechase course for Phase B before the riders made their way to the vet box and cross-country start after Phase C,” he explained. The start box was located where the current VIP parking area is and the course wound its way around that portion of the property.
“You should have seen this place when we first started work on the course! Everything was overgrown, we kept finding things like great stone walls and banks hidden under vines and underbrush,” John said adding, “Many thought we couldn’t get it done. But we did! We overcame lots of challenges that first year.”
The Evolution of Fair Hill
Famed international course designer Michael Tucker was brought in as the event’s first course designer. John, Trish and a few others on the FHI committee met Michael at the Seoul Olympics in 1988 and pitched the idea of a new championship-level course at Fair Hill. Upon returning to the states, Michael, Trish and others walked around the grounds to come up with the basic layout of the facility.
“I had met Trish in Seoul and she said she had this wonderful site and would I be interested in designing the course. I had been doing courses in the UK and jumped on the opportunity,” Michael said, adding, “the duPont estate sounded very exciting and promising.”
The Fair Hill property was basically virgin soil at that point in terms of building jumps and complexes, giving Michael and crew a chance to plan from the ground up. “I remember we were beating away the bushes to find everything we needed and then the challenge was linking it all together,” Michael stated. At the time, Michael said they did not realize just how much the undulating ground at Fair Hill would impact the course. At first glance, the 1989 course might have seemed small, but the hills of Fair Hill made the course much more challenging and bigger than expected.
“This really is the most exciting piece of cross-country that I’ve ever been able to design on,” Michael added.
Michael continued to design the course until Derek di Grazia took over in 2000. Derek had shadowed Michael the previous year and Michael stayed on as the Technical Delegate for the first three years that Derek was course designer. Derek knew the Fair Hill terrain quite well as he won the event in 1991 aboard Our Busby. “Derek put his stamp on Fair Hill. He also felt that the terrain was tough and he designs his courses accordingly,” Michael said. Derek said that even though he had ridden at Fair Hill before, as a course designer, he still had to get a feel for the property. Over the years, he has changed the general track several times as he learned more and more about how the horses travel across the property. “The thing about Fair Hill that you appreciate after riding it is how much the terrain affects the horses,” he said adding that his goal each year is to make sure the horses come away sound and ready to show jump the next day.
Eric started building jumps at Fair Hill by lending a hand to builders Tremaine Cooper and Jamie Emerson. Then in 2000, Eric became the official course designer. Eric pointed out that the two biggest changes that have taken place at FHI over the last 15 years are the number of portables being used and the use of smoother terrain. “Really, the use of more portable jumps is a change that has happened across the whole sport,” he said. “The course today uses more of the smoother terrain that is out in the open on the grass instead of many of the gravel trails that go through the woods,” he added.
These changes might not be that noticeable since Derek has taken his time making them slowly over the years. “Derek is very subtle and systematic in how he operates. There were never any gigantic changes, but he made the course better and better little by little,” Eric said, adding, “Riders might not notice these changes but they feel the difference and know it has gotten better.”
Judy feels that today’s courses have a more “horse-friendly” flow to them. “The courses use the terrain better in a way that is a bit easier on the horses. The terrain is still a very important part of the courses,” she said.
FHI’s reputation for putting on a high-quality event earned them the honor of being the host site for the 2003 Pan American Games. That year, the course had a bit of a makeover with different options being offered for the Pan American riders versus the CCI riders. FHI was actually asked fairly late in the season to host the Pan American Games as Derek said they had already begun planning that year’s CCI course. “We wanted to make it a little different from the regular three-star and wanted to have as many teams as possible make it to show jumping so that many countries were represented,” Derek explained. “The biggest difference was that there were more options that had longer routes [for the Pan American riders]. You couldn’t win by taking these options as they ate up a lot of time, but you could safely get through the course,” Eric stated. That year the U.S. team of Stephen Bradley, Jan Thompson (now Byyny), Robert Costello and Will Faudree earned team gold while Darren Chiacchia earned the individual gold medal.
In 2008, FHI dropped combined driving from the Festival’s schedule and added a CCI** course. “The two-star course followed along the same path as the three-star, which is probably why this two-star feels big, important and real. It isn’t just a bigger horse trials,” Eric explained. Derek added that he did not want the courses to use the same jumps and thus he made the courses as different as possible, allowing for the footing to stay decent throughout the day.
The evolution of the course not only involved cutting new paths, building new jumps and changing the flow from time to time but also included changes to the way the courses were actually decorated and painted. Fran said this aspect was the most interesting to watch develop over the years. “Decorations have gone from very minimal to much more ornate. We are way beyond just feedbags these days,” she remarked. Judy added that this year’s courses will have a few more natural-looking jumps as the course builders have taken advantage of several trees that had fallen during off-season storms.
Fran also noted that the computer age has changed FHI, from the way the program is made, to the website. “We were the first event in the world to have an official website,” she said.
If John had to do the whole thing again, he said the only thing he’d change was how to get spectators out onto the course. “Everything is clustered by the road and there is so much land we don’t use because no one would be able to see it. We should have thought a bit more about how to get people back into the course,” he stated. To help with this dilemma, FHI began hiring buses to transport people from a parking lot at the fairgrounds to the main part of the facility. Plus, they provide hay wagon “people movers” to shuttle spectators around the grounds.
A Silver Anniversary
Over the past 25 years, the FHI staff has strived to make Fair Hill into one of the best competition venues in the world and all of their hard work has paid off. Olympians from all over the world have often used FHI as a stepping stone for their young horses. This year, the competition will be better than ever with the festival offering spectators a chance to watch the best of eventing from the Future Event Horse through the CCI*** level.
The biggest improvements to the courses for this year’s event might not be easily noticeable, as the folks at FHI have spent a lot of time and money improving the footing and drainage in several areas of the course. “Fair Hill has great turf already so we just keep building onto that. Every year we put sand down and roll the course as soon as the event is over so that the grass roots get deeper and the turf gets better,” Eric explained. But in addition, this year FHI undertook a huge drainage project through the field where the “Sneaky Snake” trakehner is located to help the area handle more water in case of rain.
Tile was also added around both sides of the Spring House Water and the footing was regraded. Footing and turf improvements were also made to the Chesapeake Water complex. A lot of “dirt work” was done as well to allow for portable jumps to be placed on better ground. “Spectators might not notice the difference but the riders will feel it,” Eric added.
The overall flow of the course will be similar to past years but competitors will be met with new challenges such as the addition of a coffin on the two-star course, a new trakehner and a new ditch and wall. As in year’s past, the overall layout of the specific jumps will change, as will the specific questions being asked.
The 25th anniversary will be celebrated in many ways throughout the week including historic photos being placed on display throughout the grounds. In addition, the Thursday evening welcome reception will also be an anniversary party to pay tribute to the past 25 years of FHI. Special guests will be past winners and owners of winning horses. See the sidebar “25 Years of Winners” for a list of FHI’s CCI*** winning riders, horses and owners.
Michael will be returning to FHI for the first time in several years and will be on hand all week offering commentary about FHI’s early years. “I’m excited to see old friends and catch up. Fair Hill has become one of the most well-known courses because of its natural course,” Michael said adding, “Plus there are extremely good eating venues around Fair Hill.” If you see Michael around the grounds this year, ask him about the Halloween parties. You are sure to get some great stories.
Dutta Corporation Takes Over
Earlier this year, the U.S. Eventing Association announced a big change for FHI as the Dutta Corporation came on as title sponsor of the event. Dutta is also the official shipper for the U.S. Eventing Team. “The Dutta Corporation has been an outstanding partner as a sponsor of the U.S. Dressage Team. Dutta’s decision to support the U.S. Eventing Team and Fair Hill International solidifies its commitment to the — USEF and equestrian sport,” said John Long, — USEF CEO, in an April press release.
Interestingly, Dutta is also celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. The company specializes in shipping horses overseas to 16 countries on a weekly basis. “We know this is an important fixture on the eventing calendar and are pleased to be able to contribute to its continued success,” said J. Tim Dutta, founder of Dutta Corporation.
Plans are in the works to incorporate the Dutta Corporation globe logo into one of the water complexes on the cross-country course.
Future Eventers Added to Schedule
|25 Years of Winners|
|1989||Nos Ecus||Karen Lende*||Mr & Mrs Richard H. Thompson|
|1990||Landino||Charles Plumb||Mildred Lindroth|
|1991||Our Busby||Derek di Grazia||Mr & Mrs di Grazia|
|1992||Eagle Lion||Bruce Davidson*||Someday Farm|
|1993||Wilton Fair||David O’Connor*||Wilton Fair Group|
|1994||Best Seller||Mark Weissbecker||Birch Hill Farm|
|1995||Chatsby||David Green*||Caroline Wells|
|1996||Sky’s Prospect||Phillip Dutton* (AUS)||Nina Gardner|
|1997||Giltedge||David O’Connor*||Jacqueline Mars|
|1998||Brevity||Mark Weissbecker||Mr & Mrs Edward Linde|
|1999||Rattle N’ Hum||David O’Connor*||David Lenaburg|
|2000||Drizzle||Phillip Dutton* (AUS)||Mr & Mrs Vettorino|
|2001||The Native||David O’Connor*||Jacqueline Mars|
|2002||Custom Made||David O’Connor*||Xandarius LLC|
|2003||Grand Slam||Karen Lende O’Connor*||Lourdes Peralta|
|2004||The Foreman||Phillip Dutton* (AUS)||Ann Jones|
|2005||West Farthing||Nathalie Bouckaert Pollard||Nathalie Bouckaert Pollard|
|2006||McKinlaigh||Gina Miles*||Thomas Schultz & Laura Coats|
|2007||The Foreman||Phillip Dutton* (AUS)||Ann Jones|
|2008||Coal Creek||Amy Tryon||Kathryn & Tim Sullivan|
|2009||Neville Bardos||Boyd Martin*||Windurra P-L|
|2010||St. Barths||Hannah Burnett||Mr Richard Thompson|
|2011||Ying Yan Yo||Boyd Martin*||Boyd Martin & Faye Woolf|
|2012||Harbour Pilot||Hannah Burnett||Jacqueline Mars|
|*riders who have competed in an Olympic games|
The FHI schedule added the Young Event Horse East Coast Championships in 2009. Many of the CCI competitors often have young horses competing in these classes throughout the year so it was a natural fit to combine the championships with the CCI competition. As in previous years, the dressage and conformation phase will be held in the main arena on Thursday while the jumping phase will be held on Friday up at the Saw Mill course, where the regular horse trials take place throughout the year. Many of the portable jumps used for the YEH course were made by Eric and used at Pimlico Racecourse during the Thoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium earlier this month.
New this year is the addition of the Future Event Horse East Coast Championships. The in-hand competition is open to yearlings through three-year-olds and will be held on Wednesday before the first CCI horse inspection. The exact location is yet to be determined but Charlie Colgan, FHI co-president, hopes to have the competition held in the main arena. In these competitions, horses are judged on conformation and movement with the highest score being the winner. Shows are held throughout the country and only horses with a score of 68% or higher are invited to compete at the championships.
Although the competition schedule for the CCIs remains the same with dressage on Thursday and Friday, cross-country on Saturday and show jumping on Sunday, some minor changes have been made to help spectators enjoy the week. Spectators can now attend on Thursday free of charge. The dressage competition will be in full swing but many of the vendors will still be setting up.
Also free this year is the program, which used to cost $5 in addition to your ticket fee. Colgan said, “There is so much information in the program that is important for spectators that we decided to make it complimentary this year in order to enhance the FHI experience.”
In addition, FHI will be providing owners of CCI horses a special tent by the cross-country start box on Saturday so they can be close to the action.
Exhibitions, Music and More
The ever popular Art and Sport of Falconry will be back in the vendor village again this year, as is the hay maze and other fun activities for kids. HorsePlay will not be returning this year and instead, the Chincoteague Pony Drill Team will be performing on Saturday. The drill team, coached by Kendy Allen and made up of Chincoteague ponies, has performed at such places as the Kentucky Horse Park, Equitana USA, the Virginia State Fair and Delaware Horse Expo.
Also returning to FHI is Silly Goose and Val, a puppet song and dance show that will be held in the Food Course tent on Saturday.
New this year is the addition of the Riverside Carnival Band. This New Orleans jazz style band will be performing at a variety of different locations on Sunday.
The PRO bareback challenge is back on Sunday. Top event riders come into the main arena to compete bareback over a challenging show jump course. Also returning on Sunday is the Academy of Dog Training that will show spectators how to train their dogs for agility competitions. The classic car show will be on display on the driveway near the main arena on Sunday, weather permitting.
The Thoroughbred Event Horse
While show hunter and jumper riders seem to be heading overseas to find their upper-level horses, many eventers still hold the Thoroughbred as their top choice. Thoroughbreds used to be practically the only choice for Olympic-caliber event horses. Just look at the Maryland-bred JJ Babu, who won a gold medal at the 1984 Olympics with Bruce Davidson or Mr. Wister, who won a silver medal at the 1964 Olympics with Lana duPont Wright. Event riders needed horses that could jump and run. They needed horses with speed, endurance and agility and the Thoroughbred fit the bill.
And then the FEI got rid of the long format and the Warmblood began to take its hold on the eventing world. At the 2012 Olympics, not a single U.S. horse was a Thoroughbred. At last year’s Fair Hill International and the fall — USEA two- and three-star championships, the highest-placing Thoroughbred in both levels of competition was fifth. Laine Ashker’s Anthony Patch (Castleguard x Aimee Alexis) placed fifth in the CCI*** while Boyd Martin rode Colin Davidson’s Crackerjack (Aberjack x Satan’s Slave) to fifth in the CCI**. Full Thoroughbreds in general were very scarce at the event although there were many Thoroughbred crosses entered.
And yet, riders such as Mary Macklin (featured on this month’s cover) and Kate Chadderton, both competing at FHI this year, still favor a Thoroughbred over any other breed. “Thoroughbreds will always have a presence in eventing, especially with many professionals taking the time to show how competitive they can be at the upper levels,” Macklin stated, adding, “I like their adjustability and their love to jump. Plus they are much easier to keep fit and so you put less wear and tear on their legs and joints preparing them for the big three-days.” She rode her own Thoroughbred mare Mahogany Beauteo at last year’s FHI CCI** and has entered the mare again this year.
“Beast,” as she is affectionately called around the barn, was bred by Debra Butts of Union Bridge and raced under the name Mahogany Beauty. She is by Mahogany Hall and out of Say Beautiful and was trained for racing by David Butts. Macklin first started riding the mare for Butts while she was still racing and then purchased the mare as a four-year-old. This is actually the second Thoroughbred Macklin had bought from Butts. Her first was Slick Nick (aka Knickerbocker), who she rode through the Intermediate level and two long-format one-stars before a pasture injury retired him from upper-level competition.
While campaigning Knick, Beast had time to grow up a bit and did not become Macklin’s main competition horse until a few years ago. She did her first Intermediate in 2011 at the Maryland Horse Trials at Loch Moy Farm and then did her first CCI** at FHI last year. “She handled it like any other event but afterwards, she was very cocky. After Fair Hill she started looking for the flags when we are on course,” Macklin said. That is one of the other things she likes about Thoroughbreds, “they are smart, and when you put your leg on, they go.”
This year, Macklin and Beast started out the season competing in the Aiken area but an anaplasma flareup caused her to sit out most of the spring. “It was actually a good thing to have happened because we were able to take a step back and treat her overall body and she is much stronger now,” Macklin said. They kicked things back into gear this summer at Loch Moy and then headed up to New York to compete at Millbrook. The Plantation Field CIC** is Beast’s final prep before FHI. “This year I know I’ll ride much more calmly, especially since she has proved that she can jump around that course,” Macklin added.
Chadderton will be making her first appearance at the FHI CCIs, although she is no stranger to the upper levels, having already campaigned three horses to the three-star level in her native Australia. She is entered in the CCI*** with Collection Pass and the CCI** with VS McCuan Civil Liberty, both off-the-track Thoroughbreds.
Her second mount, Liberty, is by Civilisation and out of Graceful Balance. He is owned by Civil Liberty Syndicate and Adrienne Wisenberg. He has Native Dancer lines on his sire’s side. Chadderton explained that she got a late start with him as he got injured early in their career together. “He is the best horse I’ve ever had. He can move better than a Warmblood and is very clever,” Chadderton stated. His cleverness is what Chadderton likes best about him. “He is a problem solver,” she said when describing the way he figures out various questions on cross-country and in show jumping.
This year both horses also started their seasons down in Aiken but their paths to FHI are very different. “Cole needs to do something easy before he does something hard. Liberty is the opposite, he loves a challenge,” explained Chadderton. Cole started out the season with a Preliminary at Full Gallop Farm, two Intermediate horse trials and then moved up to Advanced at Southern Pines II. He finished seventh the CIC*** at FHI this spring. Chadderton will run him at Plantation Fields CIC as well but then do a Preliminary or Intermediate horse trials at Morven Park right before FHI.
Liberty also started out the year with a Preliminary run at Full Gallop and then moved up to Intermediate right after that. He did the CIC** at Fair Hill this spring and then finished fifth in the CCI** at Bromont in Canada this summer. Chadderton wants him to do an Advanced horse trials right before competing in the CCI** at FHI.